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Cooper v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 29, 2017




         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Melissa Cooper (“Ms. Cooper”) brings this action against the defendant District of Columbia (“District”) after she was terminated from her position as a Special Education Teacher in the District of Columbia Public School (“DCPS”) system. Pending before the Court is the District's motion for summary judgment on her two remaining claims:[1] (1) retaliation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.; and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq.; and (2) retaliation for protected activity under the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. The Court has carefully considered the motion, the response and reply thereto, the applicable law, and the entire record herein. The Court finds that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, and thus, for the reasons stated below, the District's motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.

         II. Background

         A. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(e), Local Rule 7(h), and Ms. Cooper's Pleading Defects

         When a party moves for summary judgment, it must accompany its motion with a statement of material facts as to which it contends there is no genuine issue. LCvR 7(h)(1). The movant must reference the specific parts of the record relied on in support of the assertions of fact in the statement. Id. In turn, the non-movant's opposition brief must be accompanied by a concise statement of genuine issues setting forth all material facts as to which it contends a genuine issue exists. Id. That statement of genuine issues also must include specific references to the evidentiary record. Id. But if a party “fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact . . . the court may . . . consider th[at] fact undisputed for purposes of the motion.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). That is, a court “may assume that facts identified by the moving party in its statement of material facts are admitted, unless such a fact is controverted in the statement of genuine issues filed in opposition to the motion.” LCvR 7(h)(1). However, a material fact in the movant's statement is not “controverted” if a non-movant supplies additional facts and “factual context” but does not actually dispute the movant's asserted fact. Toomer v. Mattis, No. 11-2216, 2017 WL 3084376 at *2 (D.D.C. July 19, 2017) (citing Gibson v. Office of the Architect of the Capitol, No. 00-2424, 2002 WL 32713321, at *1 n.1 (D.D.C. Nov. 19, 2002)).

         The District contends, with citations to the record, that there are nine facts as to which there is no genuine issue. Def. Stmt., ECF No. 48 at 3-4. In response, Ms. Cooper contends that twenty-nine facts are in dispute. Pl. Stmt., ECF No. 51-2.[2] Of these, only one is supported by citation to the record. Id. at ¶ 2. Thirteen are irrelevant because they relate to a claim that was dismissed. Id. at ¶¶ 4-17; see Cooper v. Henderson, 174 F.Supp.3d 193, 202-03 (D.D.C. 2016)(dismissing Ms. Cooper's claims for failure to accommodate). The remaining statements of fact either cite to an affidavit that was not filed on the docket[3] or are unsupported.

         Therefore, the Court draws from facts submitted by the District which went undisputed or were inadequately disputed by Ms. Cooper, Ms. Cooper's asserted facts where they are relevant and supported by record evidence, as well as the factual record. See Dage v. Johnson, 537 F.Supp.2d 43, 52-54 (D.D.C. 2008) (finding no error when the Court assumed the movant's material facts were admitted because the non-movant's statements “did not cite to record evidence”)(internal quotations omitted).

         B. Factual Background

         Ms. Cooper was employed by DCPS as a Special Education Teacher for over thirty years, from 1980 to 2012. Def. Mot., ECF No. 48 at ¶¶ 1-2. On August 10, 2012, Ms. Cooper was terminated from her position at Roosevelt Senior High School. Termination Notice, ECF. No. 48-1. She is now retired.

         Ms. Cooper's problems with her school's Principal and Assistant Principal began in the 2010-2011 school year and continued until her 2012 termination. See generally Pl. Interrog., ECF. No. 48-8. Starting in 2010, she had various disputes with administrators regarding perceived unfair treatment. Id. at 2-9. In the 2010-2011 school year, from April 4, 2011 until June 10, 2011, [4] Ms. Cooper took FMLA medical leave due to stress. Pl. Dep., ECF No. 48-9 at 13:16-22. That same school year, Ms. Cooper received a “minimally effective” rating pursuant to DCPS' “Effectiveness Assessment System for School- Based Personnel.” 2010-2011 Assessment, ECF No. 48-2. Her difficulties with school administration continued into the 2011-2012 school year. Ms. Cooper took a second FMLA medical leave of absence to undergo Achilles tendon surgery from December 1, 2011 through January 10, 2012. Pl. Dep., ECF No. 48-9 at 52:1-6, 59:14-22. That year, Ms. Cooper again received a “minimally effective” rating. 2011-2012 Assessment, ECF No. 48-3.

         On August 10, 2012, Ms. Cooper was terminated subject to DCPS procedure, which subjects employees receiving a minimally effective rating for two consecutive years to removal. Termination Notice, ECF No. 48-1. At some point after she was terminated, Ms. Cooper challenged the decision with the Office of Employee Appeals (“OEA”). OEA Appeal, ECF No. 51-5. While it is unclear when the OEA case was officially resolved, the OEA Administrative Judge memorialized in a June 23, 2014 Order that Ms. Cooper and DCPS indicated they were settling the dispute through retirement. Id.

         Ms. Cooper also filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on December 20, 2013, alleging that she had been subjected to race, age, and disability discrimination; was subjected to retaliation for protected activity; and endured a hostile work environment. EEOC Charge, ECF No. 48-5. The EEOC rejected her claim on May 30, 2014 and sent notice advising Ms. Cooper of her right to sue the District within 90 days of receipt. EEOC Dismissal, ECF Nos. 51-3, 48-6. The notice was stamped for mailing on June 4, 2014. Id. Ms. Cooper filed her claim in this Court on September 9, 2014.

         Ms. Cooper is now retired. She first approached DCPS to determine when she would be eligible for retirement in April 2011 and was told to return for a retirement calculation in the next school year. Pl. Dep., ECF No. 48-9 at 84:2-10. In November 2011, she requested and received a retirement computation, or an analysis of when an employee is eligible to retire, and learned that she was eligible for retirement in November 2012. Id. at 84:11-18. In July or August 2012, [5] Ms. Cooper submitted another computation form to calculate her future retirement benefits. Id. at 84:19-85:22; Computation Form, ECF No. 51-4. At some point, Ms. Cooper was informed by an unnamed DCPS attorney that she could not receive retirement benefits because she had been terminated. Pl. Dep., ECF No. 48-9 at 88:9-15. On June 26, 2014, Ms. Cooper submitted a final application for retirement. Pl. Opp'n, ECF No. 51 at 12-13; Pl. Dep., ECF No. 48-9 at 86:2-4. Her retirement paperwork was processed and she began receiving benefits in August 2014. Pl. Dep., ECF No. 48-9 at 91:19-21.

         III. Standard of Review

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, summary judgment should be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Waterhouse v. District of Columbia, 298 F.3d 989, 991 (D.C. Cir. 2002). The moving party must identify “those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted). To defeat summary judgment, the nonmoving party must demonstrate that there is a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 324. A material fact is one that is capable of affecting the outcome of the litigation, while a genuine dispute is one where “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Further, in the summary judgment analysis “[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Id. at 255. However, rule 56(e) requires the nonmoving party to go beyond the pleadings to demonstrate that there is a genuine issue for trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. 317 at 324.

         IV. Analysis

         A. Ms. Cooper Failed to Establish a Retaliation Claim Under the ...

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